The media in South Africa


South Africa is a media-savvy nation, saturated with print, broadcast and online offerings. 

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Sections in this article:

  • Introduction
  • Media consumers
  • Media owners
  • The future
  • Press freedom
  • Related articles
  • Useful links


The traditional newspaper market is relatively static, but there has been phenomenal growth in the tabloid market. India and China have recorded a similar trend, with newspapers targeted at specific local audiences powering through the readership ranks.

There has been significant growth in magazines published by the four major media houses, and by specialist independent publishers. Many of these are international titles, such as Heat, FHM, Elle, GQ, Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire, published under agreement with their international owners.

And as in any fast-paced, first world nation, online media is accessed via cellphones, through RSS feeds and via national and international news websites and chat rooms.

Local media houses have general and specialised news websites which, in terms of the speed and breadth of their coverage, are on a par with the best in the world.

Broadcasting and telecommunications are regulated by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), which also issues broadcast licences.

There are a large number of television stations and channels, covering national, African and international news ranging from politics to hard news, business and celebrity news.

Public broadcasting is provided by the state broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), through an annual payment of a TV licence fee.  Free-to-air is provided by commercial broadcaster and subscription television services – MNet and DStv – are provided by Multichoice. In 2007 Icasa issued licences for four new pay-TV providers set to end Multichoice Africa’s monopoly in the pay-TV market, these are: Telkom Media, On Digital Media (ODM), e.sat and Walk on Water Television, as well as incumbent MultiChoice.

Radio commands vast listenerships, with community stations catering to specific target audiences and national stations drawing in people across the country.

In its SA Media Facts report for March 2009, OMD Media Direction found that there were 21 daily newspapers, 27 major weeklies, 660 consumer magazines, 735 business-to-business publications, 470 community newspapers and magazines, 92 television stations, 137 radio stations, and over 65 DStv audio channels.

Regarding digital media, there were 10.9 internet users per 100 people, 8.5 personal computers per 100 people and 72.4 cellphone subscribers per 100 people. Web pages indexed by Google were estimated at more than 10 billion.

International news agencies Bloomberg and Reuters have bureaux in Johannesburg, while the BBC has correspondents in the country. CNBC Africa was launched in South Africa in 2007. Local news services include the South African Press Association and African Eye News.

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Media consumers

According to the 2008B All Media Products Study (AMPS) by the South African Advertising Research Foundation (Saarf), 48.6% of South African’s adult population (over the age of 16) read newspapers, 31.4% read daily papers and 35.4% read weekly papers.

For its statistics, Saarf uses the latest Bureau for Market Research (BMR) population estimate, based on the 2001 Census, which puts South Africa’s adult population (over the age of 16) at some 31-million.

Mainstream newspaper circulation is fairly flat, according to figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation of South Africa (ABC). But this is balanced by massive growth in new tabloid-style papers aimed at the mass market.

According to ABC figures for the first quarter of 2007, the circulation of newspapers with a traditionally middle-class readership are flat, with the exception of the Mail & Guardian, which went up from 42 000 in the same period of 2006 to 47 000 in 2007. In the period October – December 2008 figures reveal an increase of 12.4%, the newspaper now has 58 258 weekly sales (as against 48 292 in 2006), the highest in its 25-year history.

But newspapers with a largely black, working-class readership are booming. The most notable title in this trend is the tabloid Daily Sun, which had an average 508 000 daily sales in the first quarter of 2007, up from 452 000 in the same period of 2006.  Continuing with this trend, in the first quarter of 2009 sales for Daily Sun have increased to 513 291 daily.  City Press was up from 185 000 to 201 000 average weekly sales in 2008, and in 2009 it is circulating at 195 150 weekly sales. However, Beeld sales dropped in 2007 from 105 184 daily sales to 101 972 in 2009.

According to the Saarf Amps figures, nearly 22-million watch television, over 25-million listen to the radio, and just under 11-million read magazines. According to figures by digital media consultancy World Wide Worx, 38.5-million South Africans access the internet, or 8% of the total population.

State broadcasting channel SABC1 has far and away the highest viewership, at 70.6% of the adult population. This is followed by SABC2 with 60%, with 57.1%, SABC3 with 47.6%, the main MNet channel with 6.4% and all of the DStv channels with 16.8%.

DSTV subscribers reached the 2-million mark in November 2007.

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Media owners

South Africa’s media is dominated by a handful of large corporations, with their interests stretching from newspapers to magazines and the internet. Radio is mostly the domain of the state broadcaster, the SABC, although there is a growing number of community stations.

There are three main players in television: the SABC , which has three channels (SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3); the free-to-air broadcaster, ; and Multichoice , which has sewn up the pay channel market. Its bouquet is large, and it regularly adds new channels.

There are plenty of small, independent media houses, which publish magazines as well as in-house and business-to-business journals. But the major media owners are Media24 , Independent News and Media , Avusa , and the Caxton and CTP Group . These four own almost all the major newspapers and community newspapers, most of the consumer magazine titles and a slew of specialist magazines, and have a finger in internet and broadcast pies.


Media24 owns the Daily Sun, the new mass-market tabloid whose success has turned the South African newspaper market on its head.

The paper has a daily circulation of over 500 000 and readership of 7.7-million, while Media24’s other dailies have a circulation of over 800 000. The company’s weekly urban newspapers command a circulation of about 1.4-million a week; the community newspaper division accounts for 1.3-million a week.

Media24 Magazines publishes more than 60 titles – some jointly with other companies or under licensing agreements with international titles – selling more than 5.9-million magazines a month that are read by more than 8.7-million people.

Its space on the internet, , was set up in 2006 after the merger of two sister organisations, M-Web Studios and Media24 Digital. It provides a range of online services, such as careers, shopping, classifieds, property, health, freemail, instant messaging, blogs and photo albums. Media24 also owns South Africa’s most popular news site, .

Media24’s major dailies and weeklies are Witness, City Press, Beeld, Die Burger, Volksblad, Rapport, Sondag, Son (daily and weekly), Daily Sun, Sunday Sun and Soccer Laduma. It also has publishes a range of community newspapers. The company is owned by Naspers , which owns MIH Group, the owner of MultiChoice.

Independent News & Media

Independent News and Media owns 14 national and regional newspapers, publishing newspapers in most of the major cities.

In Johannesburg, it has the Star, the Saturday Star, Business Report, which is also carried in its morning titles in Durban, Cape Town and Pretoria, and the weekly Sunday Independent, which is sold nationally.

In Durban, the Independent Group publishes the Mercury the Daily News, the Post (aimed at the Indian market), the Zulu-language daily Isolezwe, the Independent on Saturday, and the Sunday Tribune. Isolezwe’s huge growth is part of South Africa’s tabloid-newspaper explosion, and the paper launched the world’s first Zulu-language website .

In Cape Town, Independent owns the dailies Daily Voice, its tabloid, as well as the Cape Argus and Cape Times, and the weekly Saturday Argus and Sunday Argus. It also has the Diamond Fields Advertiser, which covers Kimberley and the sparsely populated Northern Cape, and Pretoria News in the capital.

The company has some presence in the community newspapers and magazines markets.

Its internet presence is IOL , which carries news, classifieds and information from all its newspapers.


The flagship publication of Avusa (formerly Johnnic Communications, or Johncom) is the Sunday Times, South Africa’s bestselling Sunday newspaper and one of the country’s largest papers overall.

Avusa also publishes the daily morning paper Business Day and weekly magazine Financial Mail, in partnership with Pearson plc, the British company.

In Buffalo City in the Eastern Cape, the company publishes the Daily Dispatch, which was edited by Donald Woods from 1965 until his arrest and banning in 1977 for exposing government responsibility for the death of Steve Biko.

Other Avusa titles are the Sowetan, Sunday World, the Herald, Weekend Post, Algoa Sun, Ilizwi and Our Times.

Its magazine division has titles in the consumer, specialist, business and medical sectors, while Picasso Headline publishes a range of titles and takes care of custom publishing for other organisations.

Avusa also has leanings towards broadcast, with a stake in the Home Channel and Summit TV, which are both carried through DStv. Its online presence is strong, with internet sites for many of its newspapers. It also owns the citizen journalism site,

And it has I-Net Bridge , an electronic provider of data, news and applications to the professional investment community and corporate market.

Caxton and CTP Group

Caxton’s interests lie mainly in community newspapers and magazines, although it has made some forays into dailies and weeklies, notably with the Citizen and the free paper, Metro Citizen, which is available on Metrobus buses in Johannesburg.

Caxton owns 128 newspapers, many of which cover the smaller cities and towns in which the other big media houses have no presence, and 13 magazines.


With its businesses mainly in the advertising and content sectors of the media industry, Primedia is listed on the JSE . The company owns several radio stations, including 702 Talk Radio and 94.7 Highveld Stereo, which broadcast in Gauteng, as well as Cape Town’s 567 AM Cape Talk.

Primedia’s online presence is , and the company also dominates South Africa’s outdoor (billboard) advertising market.

M&G Media

Although it is a small group, M&G Media must be included in any overview of the South African media. The company published the highly regarded weekly Mail and Guardian, which began life in 1985 as the Weekly Mail, a newspaper that earned international respect for its fearless exposure of apartheid-era abuses. Its target audience remains the more serious reader.

The Mail & Guardian was also the first South African – and African – newspaper to have its own website, with its original editors, Irwin Manoim and Anton Harber, launching M&G Online in 1994. The site is now co-owned by internet service provider MWeb.

The Mail & Guardian’s ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) circulation October-December 2008 is approximately 58 000 weekly sales and its AMPS 2008 readership is 500 000 adults of all races.

M&G is the joint owner of M&G Online , along with internet service provider MWeb .

M&G Media is 87.5% owned by Newtrust Company Botswana Limited, which is owned by Zimbabwean publisher Trevor Ncube. The London-based Guardian Newspapers Limited holds 10% of the company and minority shareholders make up the rest.


M-Net, the subscription television channel, was founded in 1986. The first broadcast, comprising one 12-hour channel, went out in October 1986. Today it has a range of general entertainment and niche channels and broadcasts to over 2-million subscribers in 41 countries across Africa.

Its subscriber management division became MultiChoice in 1993 when the customer service divisions split from M-Net. It became MIH Holdings in 1996. The MIH Group is wholly owned by Naspers, the owners of Media24.

Its operations include subscriber management services and digital satellite television platforms broadcasting 24 hours a day on its DStv platform.

Multichoice currently offers DStv in a variety of packages, these include: DStv Premium, Select, Compact, EasyView, Portuguesa, North Indian and South Indian. Each package provides different entertainment programming and technological innovation.  A range of channels are offered, from video channels to audio channels to radio channels and an affordable monthly subscription is paid according to the choice of package.

MultiChoice owns MWeb, the internet services provider that has about 340 000 broadband and dial up customers. MultiChoice also has interests in M-Net/SuperSport. Through Media24 and MIH, Naspers has interests around the world. is South Africa’s first private free-to-air television channel. It was launched in 1998 and broadcasts a full-spectrum programming service to 78% of South Africa’s population – the 2008 AMPS figures put its viewership at 17 881 000.

The channel is owned by black empowerment group Hosken Consolidated Investments Limited and Venfin Limited.

Through its television news service, broadcasts three English bulletins each night and a daily news and current affairs show, Morning Edition, each morning.’s prime-time flagship current affairs programmes are 3rd Degree and the 24-hour E-News channel on the DStv digital satellite platform.


Established on 1 August 1936 by an Act of parliament, on 1 October 2003 the SABC became a limited liability company wholly owned by the state.

Its national radio network comprises 18 radio stations, 15 of which are dedicated specifically to public service broadcasting. These are 11 full-spectrum stations, one in each of the official languages, a cultural service for the Indian community broadcasting in English, a regional community station broadcasting in isiXhosa and English and a community station broadcasting in the !Xu and Khwe languages of the KhoiSan.

SABC radio is dominant in South African broadcasting – AMPS indicates that over 78% of South Africa’s adult radio listeners tune in to SABC radio. Its television network comprises four television channels – three free-to-air (SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3) and one pay-TV (SABC Africa) broadcast 24 hours a day on the DStv digital satellite platform.

The SABC’s on-line news service, attracts an average of 600 000 site visits a month.

The Government Communication and Information System, GCIS, has a comprehensive list and contacts of the media in South Africa, including foreign media presence and freelance journalists.

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The future

The trend in South Africa, as in other developing nations such as India and China, is towards local newspapers for local readers, in a tabloid style.

Content is changing, too: it is human interest, focused on the local community, local investigations and often uses local languages. Son, for example, is written in a rough, street Afrikaans.

The stories are big on superstition, violent crime and local interest, with little or no sense of the bigger picture and no analysis. In South Africa, the papers falling into this sector are the Daily Sun, Son, Isolezwe, Ilanga and Daily Voice.

Overall readership figures are up, according to the latest Amps report. Although the older and more traditional titles may be in some trouble, as they are in the EU and the US, sales figures are rising. There was a 43.18% increase in newspaper circulation between 2002 and 2006 and an increase in the number of tabloid publications.  A further increase to 48.6% between 2007 and 2008 has taken place and tabloid publications are still well ahead.

The reasons for this boom have variously been given as an increasing literacy, less political repression, the privatisation of the media, better infrastructure and higher domestic incomes.

The Daily Sun leads the fray – it is read by 3 in 10 South African newspaper readers – with sales rising from 71 742 in 2002 to 513 291  in 2009. Launched in 2002, it was the first local tabloid aimed at the black working class. Initially met with disdain by the established press, its huge sales – and the fact that it has made new newspaper readers out of millions of South Africans – have earned it some respect. Its success has been emulated by other papers. Isolezwe, the Zulu-language tabloid, has posted a rise in sales from 34 057 in 2002 to 102 454 in 2009, and has a readership of 655 000.

There are also about 200 successful, small, independent papers in South Africa. There have been two attempts at daily free newspapers: the Citizen Metro is available on Metrobus buses in Joburg, while the Times is delivered daily, free of charge to Sunday Times subscribers, of which there are 130 000.

Citizen journalism has some way to go. The Times is trying it; and Avusa launched, a news website, in January 2006. Written entirely by its readers, to date it has over 3 800 registered reporters who file content on a daily basis.

But by far the biggest challenge to the traditional newspaper market is the internet. In South Africa, there are over 36-million cellphones in circulation (although perhaps not that many actual cellphone users), while 3.85-million people have access to the internet.

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Press freedom

Press freedom has always been important to South Africans. During the dark days of apartheid, the press was severely restricted.

Despite the government’s legislation, harassment and imprisonment, the news was still defiantly reported. Given this history, it is no surprise that freedom of the press was written into the new democratic Constitution.

However, according to the Reporters Without Borders‘ Worldwide Press Freedom Index, South Africa’s press freedom ranking is slipping, dropping from 31 in 2005 to 44 in 2006. Evident of some improvement, in 2008 the press freedom ranking picked up to 36.

This still puts it in the top 50 countries said to have “genuine press freedom”. Reporters Without Borders surveys 173 countries. It looks at the degree of freedom journalists and news groups have in each country, as well as the efforts made by the various governments to safeguard press freedom.

Other African countries in the top 50 include: Namibia (23rd), Mali (31st), Cape Verde (36th) and Mauritius (47th).

The South African media is governed by the Broadcasting Act and the Electronic Communications Act, both of which were formulated in the spirit of the Constitution.

The print media is not as regulated as broadcast media and there is no clear legislation on how it should behave. The only recourse is the Press Ombudsman of South Africa. Broadcast media is regulated by the two acts, the SABC has its own editorial policy, and Icasa sets out licensing conditions. The internet is difficult to police, although technically it does fall under the two acts.

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